Michael Keaton’s Best Horror Movie Is Making A Comeback On Streaming
Maybe you should watch it three times!
Michael Keaton isn’t exactly known for his contributions to horror, which is somewhat criminal if you think about it. While he may not play them that often, when given the chance the Dopesick star really gives good villain though he doesn’t often play them in horror movies. Whether it’s as Adrian Toomes aka Vulture in Sony’s Spider-Verse or something more obscure like his role as the merciless Peter McCabe in 1997’s Desperate Measures, Keaton’s turns as villainy are chilling and memorable, perhaps none more than as the crude troublemaker of 1988’s Beetlejuice. The film is undergoing a nice little streaming revival, charting at #8 on HBO’s most watched movies.
Before Batman, Birdman, or Spider-Man: Homecoming, Michael Keaton was the star of the spooky and hilarious Beetlejuice, but not as the hero. In an idyllic town in Connecticut, Barbara and Adam Maitland are about to embark on a wonderful stay-cation, but after a drive to town which they can’t quite remember, the young couple finds The Handbook for the Recently Deceased waiting for them. Turns out the couple died in a car crash and now they have to figure out how to exist as ghosts. The bureaucracy of the afterlife proves somehow to be even more tedious and difficult than it is before death, and by the time the ghosts return home a wealthy family, the Deetzes, arrives to turn their home into a trendsetting modern art nightmare. The Maitlands try and fail to scare the Deetzes away, and befriend their always black-clad teenage daughter Lydia.
Eventually the Maitalnds make the mistake of turning to the Michael Keaton character Betelgeuse — who pronounces it “Beetlejuice” — to do his thing as a “bio-exorcist.” If you’ve never seen Beetlejuice — think of Jim Carrey’s The Mask, but make him a bug-eating zombie who’s always trying to hit on every woman he sees; that’s Betelgeuse. Turned off by his crude, obscene behavior, the Maitlands tell Betelgeuse what he can do with himself, but the ghost decides to go ahead and terrorize the Deetzes regardless and, unlike the Maitlands, he isn’t gentle about it.
Beetlejuice was Tim Burton’s second feature in the director’s chair, following 1985’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. While with Pee Wee Burton was handling an already existing franchise, his work on Beetlejuice gave him much more room to play with elements that would become hallmarks of the director. Though it certainly didn’t include the bloodletting of future films like Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd, Beetlejuice gave fans a preview of Burton’s dark humor, his horror chops, as well as the unique visuals that can help you spot a Burton scene from 100 miles away. The first film Burton recruited Michael Keaton for also includes the booming, dark music of Danny Elfman who would go on to collaborate on numerous projects with the filmmaker.
Along with Michael Keaton in the title role, Beetlejuice‘s cast includes a lot of big names relatively early in their fame. Geena Davis starred as Barbara Maitalnd three years before the premiere of Thelma & Louise, and her husband Adam is played by a disarmingly young Alec Baldwin two years before he became the first big screen Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. Winona Ryder played the death-fixated Lydia Deetz the same year she starred opposite Christian Slater in the cult classic Heathers and two years before she once again collaborated with Burton on Edward Scissorhands. Catherine O’Hara of Schitt’s Creek fame was the insufferable but fierce Delia Deetz while Ferris Bueller’s principal Jeffrey Jones played her spineless husband Charles.
Beetlejuice became a cultural landmark; inspiring an animated series, a stage musical, and even a sequel on the way even though almost three and a half decades have gone by. Michael Keaton is on board to once again play the crudest ghost in pop culture, and right now it just seems to be a question of when. Beetlejuice enjoyed a mostly positive response from critics and even brought home an Oscar in 1989 for Best Makeup.
If you haven’t seen Beetlejuice yet and you subscribe to HBO, do yourself a favor and correct that while you can. Fans of horror and/or comedy should adore it, as should any Tim Burton fans.